For my last conversation class I greedily reserved the topic of “Magic,” eagerly anticipating the wild and fantastic responses the students would give to questions such as, “If this were a magical university, what type of spells would you teach?” and “If you could conjure food and shelter, would you still go to work?” However, I had to spend the first thirty minutes explaining the concept of magic.
“COME ON!” I yelled. “I know you’ve seen Harry Potter!”
We kept getting caught on the idea that magic is more than simply something imaginary. Finally I settled on the simplified question, “If you could say one word and it would happen, what word would it be?” I got answers such as PEACE and FLY until grandfather Ahmed raised his hand and boldly said, “If I was the president of America, I would restructure the economy.”
I finished with the classic Magic Box scenario – faced with a fierce dragon, you can pull one item out of a magic box to defeat it. There were some imaginative answers, such as a red rose or a lady dragon, but the creativity they’d shown before was lacking. All Fissun could do was repeated close and open her dictionary, looking up the same word and triumphantly shouting “GUN!” each time she found it. However, Mustafa, originator of classics such as the dream restaurant and dolphin-bird, innovatively wanted to turn the box into the basket of a hot air balloon and tour the world.
My last medical faculty class started with an sixty minute wait in the dean’s sitting room with his two-faced secretary Hateje. I usually have to sit twenty minutes before the busy dean welcomes me in, but I sat quietly and read Treasure Island for an hour before he came out like he was right on time. The class ended with a discussion of how each man met his wife. “This is a secret thing,” Bulent said. “We do not usually discuss it.” As it happens, they don’t discuss it because no one has an interesting story – they all had arranged marriages. Except Bulent, who searched for a wife himself. He approached his future father-in-law, who said his daughter must finish college before marrying. Bulent said he couldn’t wait two more years. “Unfortunately, I could find no one else. So I married her two years later.”
Both classes gave me gifts. The regular faculty students gave me a kilim, or special rug. The medical class gave me a linen shirt with a fancy graphic design around the collar, marking it as a shirt I will never wear.
Now I’m preparing to leave. The guest house manager helped. A few nights ago as I
Googled myself read the news, one of the receptionists at my hotel approached me. “We need you to move out,” he said. All the suites were full, and they needed one for a VIP guest. Since I’ve only lived here for eight months, they decided I had the least right to stay. A few of the maids helped me push my suitcases down the hall to 101, the room I spent my first month in.
A friend of mine came today and checked in without me. The desk had to call me (“Mr. Cass, sorry for talking”) for confirmation of our friendship. Later, she texted me: “The receptionist just asked me what your job is.” Eight months later, and they still have no idea who I am.
Thu, the friend, and I went to the city center to watch the president of Turkey speak at an election rally, which was well attended despite the political unrest in the area. Later as we walked the crowded, traffic-less streets, a Turk stopped Thu and pointed at the flag she was holding. “You should drop that. Someone might hurt you.” Then a passerby took it out of her hands and stomped on it. Before I knew it, the man was running into a crowd followed closely by surprisingly fast police. It’s illegal to deface a Turkish flag. People came from blocks away to watch – Turks are suckers for a good fight.
After that we sat in a tea house and watched teenagers run through the streets chased by police in heavy white helmets and plastic-looking body armor. It was like watching a colorized Keystone Cops with real violence and terror. Workers ran inside the tea house holding the outdoor chai tables over their heads, piling them in the back so the rioters wouldn’t smash them, or use them to smash something else. Though we were hungry, we couldn’t leave because each time I stepped outside, another group of rock-throwers was running from angry, bouncing white helmets. I usually do a good job of avoiding demonstrations in Van; today I stayed in the city a little too long.
However, when I think about leaving I think about Murat, the herbologist, who on Tuesday during our class tea break sat with a big blue Redhouse Turkish to English dictionary, silently flipping pages. As I talked to another student, he blurted out, “I yearn for you.” Instead of offering a correction, I took him at his word.